Story at a glance

  • Universal Basic Income provides no-strings-attached stipends to the poor, in the hopes they will use it to lift themselves out of the downward cycle of debt and poverty.
  • Several pilot programs have been launched around the world, many of them small-scale and privately funded.
  • Poor residents of Stockton, CA are receiving $500 a month over an 18 month trial period in a pilot program being closely watched by politicians and policymakers.

Andrew Yang has been getting some traction in his presidential campaign with his signature universal income plan, as well as a reputation as an unorthodox thinker. But universal income is not a new concept. It’s been advocated in various forms for years and it has already been put into practice in Stockton, California.

Stockton is only an hour and a half drive East of San Francisco but the differences couldn’t be greater. One city has some of the most expensive real estate on the planet, while the other has one of the highest rates of unemployment and bankruptcies in the nation.

Yet Stockton’s 29-year-old mayor Michael Tubbs has the moxie of start-up tech entrepreneur. Among other innovative programs he has implemented to revitalize his ailing city, the 13th largest in California, he has been giving a stipend of $500 a month to the city’s poorest residents since February of this year. No strings attached.

Some economists say stipends may save money over the long run by giving families the breathing room and resilience they need to weather setbacks and improve their lives over time. Studies of Cherokee youth, whose families received windfall supplements from a casino, showed they committed fewer crimes and were healthier, saving the government money in health and protective services.

There is vocal opposition, however, that argues the poor will spend the free money unwisely, and that a universal income on a large scale, let alone nationally, would be too costly for taxpayers to bear. Mayor Tubbs recently released early data from the Stockton experiment. Watch the video to learn how this social experiment is playing out so far.

Published on Nov 04, 2019